Does alternate picking on 4/4 tunes for mandolin/banjo have a counterpart in fiddle playing?

Does alternate picking on 4/4 tunes for mandolin/banjo have a counterpart in fiddle playing?

I know nothing about fiddles, but am starting to realize the importance of regular, consistent, alternate picking direction on fretted instruments, for reels particularly, but it seems that even hornpipes might benefit. Is fiddle bowing similar? Any insights would be welcome.

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Re: Does alternate picking on 4/4 tunes for mandolin/banjo have a counterpart in fiddle playing?

If by pick direction, you mean to play a melody line one note per direction, then yes. On the fiddle they are sometimes called saw strokes, but it sounds tedious after a while; almost like a pianola.

Re: Does alternate picking on 4/4 tunes for mandolin/banjo have a counterpart in fiddle playing?

Yes, alternate picking equates to saw bowing. As to it’s importance, it is important to be able to do it, and then it’s important not to do it. What is important is the rhythmic emphasis it gives the music, so you need to learn to do it, learn how it sounds, and then learn how to create the same rhythmic emphasis with other pick/bow directions. Then you can pick/bow a tune however it demands without loosing the rhythm.

Re: Does alternate picking on 4/4 tunes for mandolin/banjo have a counterpart in fiddle playing?

Yes and no. You can, of course, change bow direction on every note - there are also bowing patterns that echo other picking styles (such as DDU DDU in a jig). But using any repetitive, unvarying, bowing pattern generally does not serve the tune well. Unlike the pick, with a bow you can easily play two, three or more notes together in one stroke (slurring). It is the combination of slurring and single bowing that allows a fiddler to vary their phasing and rhythmic emphasis within a tune. Some fiddlers may use *predominantly* single bowing, but slurring almost always comes in at some point to give the tune some rhythmic definition.

Re: Does alternate picking on 4/4 tunes for mandolin/banjo have a counterpart in fiddle playing?

Yes, alternate picking direction on fretted instruments has a bowing equivalent, as already mentioned by Fidele Barnia and Mark M.

You can call it ‘saw stroke’, but I like to think of it as détaché (separated). Scots fiddle technique uses it a lot, one note per bow. Often played with a lot of subtle accenting on both the down and up bow at different times, often where you would least expect it. It’s simply another bowing pattern in addition to all the other which use slurring.

Of course, you can use accenting on the alternate ‘down and up’ on a fretted instrument to good effect too, but once you’ve picked, you can’t then vary the duration of the note, like you can with the bow on fiddle (unless you use left hand damping).

Back to ‘saw stroke’ in bowing - I dislike the term. To me it’s a bit like using ‘crush’ on a melodeon, or ‘honk’ on a clarinet.

If you think of détaché as ‘saw stroke’, then you will simply saw away, and not really expect much in the way of a decent, interesting sound :)

Re: Does alternate picking on 4/4 tunes for mandolin/banjo have a counterpart in fiddle playing?

Jim, I also have reservations about the term Saw Strokes. I believe it appeared with the so-called rediscovery of old time fiddling in the USA. The style is often accompanied with prosaic, backwoods allusions.

Re: Does alternate picking on 4/4 tunes for mandolin/banjo have a counterpart in fiddle playing?

"If you think of détaché as ‘saw stroke’, then you will simply saw away, and not really expect much in the way of a decent, interesting sound."

I think that style of bowing used continuously is dull and uninteresting even if you call it détaché. Saw bowing is quite appropriate.

Re: Does alternate picking on 4/4 tunes for mandolin/banjo have a counterpart in fiddle playing?

Stop thinking about bowing "patterns" and instead think of bowing to create the desired phrasing and accents.

Re: Does alternate picking on 4/4 tunes for mandolin/banjo have a counterpart in fiddle playing?

"Stop thinking about bowing "patterns" and instead think of bowing to create the desired phrasing and accents."

Wow! Now you’re on to something there :)

Re: Does alternate picking on 4/4 tunes for mandolin/banjo have a counterpart in fiddle playing?

On the ‘saw stroke’ business, my take on it is that it is like listening to a beginner or early years player, where the strokes are down and up, persistent, unwavering, roughly of equal length, with not much difference in the sound in either direction, and devoid of any accents. Often laboured, usually dull and uninteresting - I totally agree.

However, take the use of that same basic pattern to the other extreme, and things are totally different. I thought I had explained it in my previous post.

Both Aly Bain and Kenny Baker [RIP] (to name but two top fiddle players) use primarily D-U-D-U, and you could call that ‘saw-stroke’ if you really insisted, but there’s certainly nothing dull and uninteresting in their playing.

I think it’s a yet another great fiddle myth that you need to incorporate slurring into your playing in order for it to sound good. Sure, in the right hands it does sound good, but it’s by no means essential.

Re: Does alternate picking on 4/4 tunes for mandolin/banjo have a counterpart in fiddle playing?

From workshops recently, it has occurred to me that maybe the regular, up/down/up/down pattern is particularly well suited to improvisation. Some instructors who advocate this approach have been bluegrass players where improvisation is very important. Not so much in Irish trad. I like the statement above about:

"Stop thinking about bowing "patterns" and instead think of bowing to create the desired phrasing and accents."

Maybe because this is basically what I’m already doing on the mandolin, and just want to rationalize that. My concern is that strict, alternate picking may actually be conducive to playing reels faster - if it is, I don’t want to miss the opportunity. Any mandolin players out there have thoughts about this?

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Re: Does alternate picking on 4/4 tunes for mandolin/banjo have a counterpart in fiddle playing?

The continuous dudu pattern use as ‘the basic pattern’ in mandolin playing is definitely only true in american country music genres, especially the later stuff like Bluegrass. When you learn the mandolin first then the american styles later this becomes apparent. Even in the US the older methods taught the down-stroke as the basic pattern, then added the upstrokes on semi-quavers rather than at the quaver stage as many bluegrass methods advocate now.
The reason they do may be the heavy emphasis on pushing the tempo speeds into the high hundreds and second century beat count. Unfortunately this gives the mechanical drilling effect which the more experienced BG players try to alleviate at intervals, often by going back to the down-stroke only in bursts to give an emphasis, or adding a tremolo burst almost to remind your ear that the high speed dudu isn’t just a tremolo. The mechanical dudu pattern in Bluegrass and some OldTime music is there deliberately to emphasise its rhythmic function, when they want a fiddle sound they get the fiddler on the job.

In my mandolin playing I find it is best to ask where you’re coming from and where your next move is going then decide the pattern. It may help to begin by thinking in terms of things like dudu or duu duu /dud dud for certain patterns at the start, but there’s much more to be gained by considering whether the particular phrase is better played with something like an arpeggio stroke, started on upstrokes, played ‘between the strings’ etc.

Definitely helpful in Irish Trad to think how you would bow it on the fiddle.
While you won’t always find a directly facsimile to use on the mandolin, but it does lock in the idea of where you should aim so your eventual choices get the desired ‘in genre’ effect.

Specifically with reels I have found that phrases that are staying within one or two courses on the mandolin do benefit from alternate picking, but as soon as I’m moving across three or more courses, then I find either the entry or exit of those passages often benefit from sequential strokes in the same direction. The main criteria for me in reels would be keeping the flow, they need to be smooth to give the illusion of breathlessness, even when not played too fast. Obviously the fiddler with the single bowed runs of notes has the edge here for tunes like reels.
So for my taste anything you can do in a reel to keep the push and avoid changes in emphasis in the wrong places is worth really getting down well in your practice. Those same kinks you iron out in one tune slow thoughtful practice will pop up again and again in other tunes. They also help you get your bags of tricks for each tune style sorted out.

Re: Does alternate picking on 4/4 tunes for mandolin/banjo have a counterpart in fiddle playing?

no

Re: Does alternate picking on 4/4 tunes for mandolin/banjo have a counterpart in fiddle playing?

"no"

Now that’s what I call an answer!

Although … it could be argued that apart from being tuned to the same pitches, and having roughly the same scale length, they have absolutely nothing else in common.